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In May 2018, we concluded a joint op ed in the Winnipeg Free Press by saying: “We are prepared to work as allies, and across sectors, to ensure the province advances its carbon reduction strategies by reducing [GHG] emissions with funds from carbon taxes.”

More than three years later, not much has changed. The June 2021 report of the Province’s Expert Advisory Committee, “Recommendations for a Green Transportation Strategy for Manitoba,” essentially elaborated on what we all had said before.

In the wake of the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that stressed the urgency of rapid GHG reductions, we therefore join voices again, across any political lines, to ask for action from the Manitoba government.

The two sectors responsible for generating the bulk of our GHG emissions are agriculture and transportation. As the pandemic has reminded us, both are essential services: we can’t stop growing food, nor can we all simply stay home.

But given the increasingly desperate situation, neither can we afford to continue to do nothing. Global warming affects everyone, in our personal and professional lives – including farmers and truckers.

To focus on the transportation sector, and specifically on trucking, we can make better choices right away to reduce GHG emissions.

For individuals, the biggest obstacle to having a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) is its cost.  Other obstacles include reliability (in all conditions) and availability of the necessary charging infrastructure.

For trucking companies, however, there also other obstacles:

After all, trucking is only one part of the supply chain – and it is a business. Trucking companies’ decisions are therefore heavily influenced by the people who hire them.  Any technological change can’t be dramatically disruptive, or anyone who tries to adopt it will simply be displaced by competitors that don’t.

Heavy diesel vehicles are also operated and regulated much differently.  Many current battery electric and fuel cell powered heavy vehicles don’t meet supply chain or regulatory expectations. For example, heavier electric batteries create a competitive disadvantage because the supply chain still expects ZEVs to have the same cargo capacity as diesel-powered vehicles, to mesh with their current business models.

Heavy trucks often run significant distances and may not return to home base for days or weeks.  This means less direct corporate control and a dependence on operating policies and fuelling infrastructure over which individual trucking companies have little influence.  The safest choice is therefore operating a traditional heavy diesel truck, not experimenting with new and uncertain technology, because everyone knows what to expect.

To speed the transition to zero-emission vehicles, these kinds of obstacles need to be overcome by a coordinated, multi-sectoral strategy that addresses vehicle costs, regulations, operability and infrastructure – and the dedicated, secure funding that such a strategy requires.

A provincial carbon tax was tentatively announced (then withdrawn) as Manitoba entered the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.  Absent that provincial tax, Manitoba’s trucking companies and other operators of heavy diesel vehicles currently pay a carbon tax of 10.73 cents per litre as part of the federal backstop program, transferring millions of dollars every year to the federal government without changing anything on the ground here.

As we called for three years ago, these carbon tax funds should be reinvested in reducing GHGs in Manitoba by supporting local companies’ successful transition from diesel to zero-emission heavy vehicles.

The Manitoba Trucking Association has long supported the concept of a provincial levy on diesel fuel, paid for by diesel consumers like the trucking industry, with the provision that collected funds only be used in support of industry efficiency initiatives such as zero-emission technologies.  With a billion litres of diesel consumed annually in Manitoba by motor vehicles, a local carbon levy equivalent to the federal tax would generate over $100 million annually.  That money could support a significant level of change, if it was collected and invested locally.

Given the current lack of ZEVs available in the market, their cost, the time it takes to order and receive them, and their current limitations on range and refueling/recharging, it will probably take longer than we want to achieve overall GHG reduction targets in the transportation sector.  Despite this, if only 3% of all registered heavy vehicles were replaced with zero emission vehicles, Manitoba would have over 1,400 new alternative-powered heavy trucks on the road.  By itself, this would remove hundreds of thousands of tonnes of GHG in Manitoba annually.

No other single initiative in Manitoba’s Climate and Green Plan comes close to achieving that level of GHG reduction. If the Province of Manitoba genuinely wants to reduce GHG emissions from the road transportation sector, it needs to reduce barriers to the technological transition of heavy diesel to zero-emission vehicles.  Manitoba should immediately adopt a levy on diesel fuel, dedicated to funding this transition.

Terry Shaw is the Executive Director of the Manitoba Trucking Association. Peter Denton is a sustainability activist, writer and academic, based in rural Manitoba.

Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press, September 9, 2021

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